When even Ha’aretz can’t hide the truth…
The entrance of Arabs into Israel’s high-tech industry is one of the sector’s most significant changes over the past four years, one with major implications for both Arab society and for Israel’s economy at large.
Since 2008, the number of Arab engineers in high-tech has risen nearly 20-fold – from only about 350 men in 2008 to 6,600 men and women now, says Sami Saadi, founder and CEO of Tsofen, which works to integrate Arabs into Israel’s high-tech industry.
This is only 4.5% of Israeli high-tech engineers, who currently number 150,000, but the figure is quickly growing.
“Several years ago, Arab society was not part of Israel’s high-tech industry at all,” says Saadi. “In 2008, when we entered the field, there weren’t really statistics. We want from village to village and asked, ‘Where are the Arab engineers?’ We found some 350 people working in the industry. Even though there were 3,000 university graduates with relevant degrees. When we tried to find them, we found them working at the family bakery in Shfaram, working at the gas station in Rama or having opened their own computer stores in their home villages. We understood that there was great potential here that wasn’t being used.”
There were no Arab women in high-tech at all, he added.
But things have changed. Not only are there 6,600 Arabs working in high-tech, 25% are women, according to Tsofen’s data. An estimated 700 Arab engineers join Israel’s high-tech industry every year. Presuming they earn average salaries for the industry – 24,000 shekels ($6,760) a month – this means Arabs in high-tech are adding 200 million shekels to Israel’s economy every year, and that figure is only growing. In total, Arab engineers have contributed some 1.9 billion shekels to Israel’s GDP.
The most notable change has been in academia, where the number of Arabs studying fields relevant to high-tech has been on a steady increase. Tsofen says there are 5,600 Arabs currently studying high-tech related degrees, including 4,500 at institutions in Israel and the remainder abroad. This is only 10% of all students in these fields, but the figure is increasing quickly. The Council for Higher Education reports that the number of Arabs studying for bachelor’s degrees in high-tech related fields has doubled in the past six years. They also account for a disproportionate portion of the increase in students studying these fields in general: The number of students in these fields increased by 1,477 in the 2017-2018 academic year, and of that increase, 544 of the students were Arabs.
“Over the 30-year period between 1984-2014, some 1,598 Arabs finished degrees in high-tech related fields. In the 2018-2019 school year, some 5,443 Arab students started studies in high-tech related fields,” says Saadi.
Israel’s high-tech industry is growing and thirsty for manpower. It doesn’t really discriminate, and Hebrew language fluency isn’t a particularly relevant criteria – employees need to know how to write computer code. And yet, the change is a cultural matter as well.
“The change is beginning among Arab mothers who instead of just seeing their sons as lawyers, accountants, pharmacists or doctors, realize they can also work in high-tech.
As an aside, I recently left a hitech company after over 17 years to become a full-time Israel advocate. I worked with many Israeli Arabs, becoming close with one in particular. As I have mentioned before, the “apartheid” accusations are just so ridiculous, especially to people like me who actually live and experience life here.